Research

The project consists of three large case studies: one on civil servants, one on diplomats and one on physicians. Lines of enquiry common to all three are the importance of networks for the dissemination of knowledge, the practical applications of knowledge and the immediate effects of knowledge.

Civil servants as purveyors of radical philosophy

In the correspondence networks of the eighteenth-century Republic of Letters, civil servants, administrators and officers are well represented. This is partly due to the fact that these types of occupations were natural for the wealthy elites of early modern societies. However, it is legitimate to suppose that many educated administrators took a genuine interest in philosophy.

In her research for the project, Charlotta Wolff will look at two key figures particularly interesting in this respect. Why did they engage in Enlightenment issues and philosophical networks, what did they read and how did their contact with radical philosophy, particularly French materialism, affect them, their actions and choices, privately and publicly, insofar as these two can be separated?

The first sub-study deals with Swedish ambassador, minister and university chancellor Count Gus­­tav Philip Creutz (1731–1785) as a socialite, freethinker and materialist. Wolff has previously mapped his contacts with the French philosophers in a forthcoming study on Enlightenment networks. In the project, she will go further with Creutz’s contacts with the Enlightenment previous to his first diplomatic mission in 1763 as well as with his role as a disseminator of French philosophy in the Sweden of the 1780s.

The second sub-study concerns the theatre director, courtier and diplomat Baron Gustaf Johan Ehren­svärd’s (1746–1783) connections to the French Encyclopédistes in the 1770s and the significance of the French radical Enlightenment in a milieu of male courtiers and freemasons closely linked to the circle around King Gustav III’s brother, Duke Charles of Sudermania.

A bibliophile diplomat and pamphleteer

Mid-eighteenth-century Stockholm hosted around ten foreign embassies. Foreign envoys in the Swedish capital had to adapt themselves to a political landscape characterized by a weak royal power, emerging party politics and an increasingly important public opinion. Being sent on a mission to Stockholm differed from being stationed in most European capitals. The mechanisms of local politics influenced all aspects of diplomacy conducted in the Swedish capital: information gathering, social life and conflict management.

One of the embassies which adapted its work to the point of breaking with the social norms of early-modern diplomacy was that of the Russian Ambassador Johann Albrecht von Korff (stationed in Stockholm 1746–1748). In her postdoctoral research, Sophie Holm is examining the case of Baron von Korff and his intellectual profile as a bibliophile and pamphleteer. Deeply engaged in the Republic of Letters, he could use his intellectual networks and the infrastructures of clandestine literature also for other purposes, including political and propagandistic ones. This influenced his diplomacy during both his mission in Stockholm and his much longer service in Copenhagen.

Epidemiology and medical knowledge networks

In this project, doctoral student Elina Maaniitty concentrates on four epidemic diseases, the measures taken to prevent them and the progress in medical science in Sweden and Finland during the long eighteenth century. The aim is to combine history of science with historical demography and historical epidemiology in a new, groundbreaking way.

The prevalence of smallpox, measles, typhus and bubonic plague is studied in several regions of Finland. Demographic data is combined with history of medicine and science to achieve a comprehensive understanding of medical science and its practical applications in eighteenth-century Sweden – and to find out whether these applications, such as smallpox inoculation, did or did not have noticeable and tangible effects on local populations and mortality rates. The spread of scientific information over physicians' networks is also studied, as well as the ways to mediate this information to laypeople. Central source material consists of scientific and popular medical writings, academic dissertations, personal documents such as letters, official reports, pamphlets and scientific journals.